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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

First Lady's Former Friend And Ex-East Wing Adviser Shares Audio Recordings Of Their Phone Calls; WH Adviser Hope Hicks Tests Positive For Covid-19 After Traveling With Pres. Trump To Debate And Minnesota Rally; Leader of Proud Boys also Leads Grassroots Group Latinos for Trump; Texas Governor Limits Each County to Only One Mail- in Ballot Drop Off Box. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired October 1, 2020 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Kati, thank you very much. And I hope all of you --

KATI MARTON, AUTHOR, "HIDDEN POWER: PRESIDENTIAL MARRIAGES THAT SHOCKED HISTORY: Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: You know, hearing the excitement in Kati's voice, don't miss the premier of "First Lady," Sunday night at 10 Eastern right here on CNN.

Thanks for watching. Here's Anderson.

[20:00:13]

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. So what happens when the President of the United States is contributing by his words and by his silence, including today to what his own top experts in the Department of Homeland Security called the most persistent and lethal domestic security threat now facing America?

And what do you do when that threat coincides with, I think, could be directed at an election that the President gas not promised to peacefully abide by? Now in a moment, we're going to be joined by former top official at the Department of Homeland Security, a Republican who serve the President who calls what he is doing now in the face of that threat -- treasonous.

That's the word she chose to use -- treasonous.

There's lethal danger is described in the Department of Homeland Security's own state of the Homeland Threat Assessment 2020. Now, that was supposed to come out today, and just about an hour ago, we got word it would not be released. No reason was given by the D.H.S. for the delay, only that there was, quote, "no statutory deadline for the product," unquote.

Meaning no law said it has to be out by today, so shut up and wait.

As you think about that statement, consider that at the same time, some drafts of the report were made public last month, a D.H.S. whistleblower named Brian Murphy said the top officials in the Department of Homeland Security were concerned about the way the report would reflect on President Trump.

According to the whistleblower, they wanted less emphasis on white supremacists and more on radical left-wing groups and less about Russian disinformation campaigns. And now the report is not being released.

But as I've said, we've seen some drafts of it and they all contain the following language. Here's one, "Among DVEs, [Domestic Violent Extremists], we judge that white supremacist extremists WSEs will remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland through 2021."

White supremacist, bigger threat inside this country than ISIS, al Qaeda, and anyone else? Now, as I mentioned, according to the complaint, the D.H.S.'s Ken Cuccinelli told the whistleblower, Murphy to modify the section of white supremacy, quote, " ... in a manner that made the threat appear less severe, as well as include information on the prominence of violent left-wing groups."

So if this was supposed to come out today, then the D.H.S. has clearly already briefed the President of the United States on the threat from white supremacists. I mean, he has likely been briefed multiple times over the last three years. They say it's the biggest domestic security threat in America. It would be criminal if they hadn't briefed him about it.

So it makes the fact that the President is not out there, and hasn't been out there for years, making multiple speeches or comments about the dangers of white supremacy, and white supremacist extremist groups, and how he is working to eradicate that threat.

The fact that he has not been out there making those speeches, it makes it all the more stunning. It makes what he has actually said even worse, because as you listen to what he has said, think about the fact that he knows it's the biggest threat in this country right now. He's been told that by the Department of Homeland Security, and yet this is how he talks about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS CHANNEL ANCHOR: Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups? Then do it, sir.

JOE BIDEN (D), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Say it. Do it. Say it.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you want to call them -- what do you want to call them? Give me a name. Give me a name.

WALLACE: White supremacists and white --

BIDEN: White Pride Boys.

TRUMP: Proud boys, stand back and standby.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Proud boys who you know like to strut around in tactical gear and they got online and took out his marching orders or strutting orders, some printed up t shirts with the phrase. Today, both Amazon and eBay banned the sale of any product with such words, perhaps because they concluded that any possible financial gain isn't worth the risk of promoting violent extremism.

The President apparently sees it differently, something his own former National Security Adviser can't understand.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Are you satisfied with the way the President responded to that?

H.R. MCMASTER, FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: No, he missed a huge opportunity, right? I mean, it should be super easy to condemn white supremacists.

You have these extreme groups, at the same time as the President and others are diminishing our confidence in our democratic process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Super easy, he says, or as he told "The Atlantic," a layup. And in that very next phrase, the General puts his finger on why the President has not taken it. Listen to this last bit again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCMASTER: You have these extreme groups, at the same time as a President and others are diminishing our confidence in our democratic process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: He says at the same time, it doesn't say for the same purpose or to the same benefit. But it's not outlandish to ask whether the President and white extremists don't have common interests here.

I mean, it's not like the President has an appeal to white fears and grievance before or cast doubt on the electoral process. In fact, last night, talking to a mostly white audience in Minnesota he did both.

By the way, Omar, he mentions is Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a refugee from Somalia. The harvesting he is talking about is his shorthand for election fraud and there's no evidence for any of it.

[20:05:03]

TRUMP: Another massive issue for Minnesota is the election of Joe Biden's plan to inundate your state with a historic flood of refugees.

[BOOING]

TRUMP: Congratulations, Minnesota. Congratulations now. And what about Omar? Where she gets caught harvesting?

[BOOING]

TRUMP: These guys -- stand up. Are you a big fan of Omar? I don't think so. Stand up. Look at this guy. He looks like -- nobody is going to fight him.

[LAUGHTER]

TRUMP: I don't think you're a big fan of Omar, right? No, she has been crooked for a long time. This is the least of it. Its time, and you know what, AOC, also. It's time. It's time.

You take a look at what they did. The corruption, the disgusting corruption, 700 percent increase refugees, coming from the most dangerous places in the world, including Yemen, Syria, and your favorite country, Somalia. Right? You love Somalia.

[BOOING]

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Again, Congresswoman Omar emigrated from Somalia, just as the President's grandfather did from Germany. But just to make it clear, the President doesn't put Berlin and Mogadishu on the same footing just to underscore the racism. Here's what he said about Congresswoman Omar just last week in Pittsburgh.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They are telling us how to run our country. How did you do where you came from? How is your country doing?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Our country and her country, he says, not acknowledging that they're actually one and the same. She is a Member of the House of Representatives in the United States of America. So if you're looking for shared racism or minimum shared white grievance. One reason the President will not straight up condemn white supremacists, there's -- well, no shortage of evidence.

There's also that shared interest as he apparently sees it in enforcing his will on Election Day and beyond. Is that what the standby is about? I mean, remember, he has yet to promise he will peacefully hand over power.

Remember also that for years now, he has boasted that his bikers and his police officers and his gun owners stand behind him, and in Tuesday's debate, he would not give a simple yes to these two questions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Will you urge your supporters to stay calm during this extended period, not to engage in any civil unrest? And will you pledge tonight, that you will not declare victory until the election has been independently certified? President Trump, you go first.

TRUMP: I am urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully, because that's what has to happen. I am urging them to do it.

I am urging -- I am urging my people. I hope it's going to be a fair election. If it's a fair election --

WALLACE: You are urging them what?

TRUMP: I am a hundred percent on board. But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can't go along with that.

WALLACE: And what does that mean "can't go along" --

TRUMP: From a commonsense --

WALLACE: Does that mean you're going to tell your people to take to the streets?

TRUMP: I'll tell you what it means, it means you have a fraudulent election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Which is just the kind of talk that violent extremism thrives on, and apparently this President thinks he'll benefit from.

It's not like any of this should come as a surprise to the President. My next guest is former Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security. She recently tweeted, "I worked to develop policies, laws and programs to better prevent domestic terrorism. My colleagues and I tried to educate the President and his staff on this threat. Initially, I thought the rebuffing was due to having other priorities, for instance, defeat ISIS, counter Iran, et cetera. I concluded after the attacks in El Paso that POTUS [President of the United States] was complicit in the deaths of Americans for his refusal to recognize his language was in the shooter's Manifesto."

Elizabeth Neumann joins us now along with Kathleen Belew, author of the book "Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America."

Elizabeth, thanks for being with us. So you said that you think the President's comments during the debate not condemning white supremacy -- full stop -- are going to lead to more violence. And you actually say what he is doing is treasonous. That's obviously a strong statement. What leads you to the conclusion?

ELIZABETH NEUMANN, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Yes, Anderson. I was really concerned. Look, it's so clear that he is doing this for political purposes. But as a counterterrorism professional, my concern is that what he did on Tuesday night, brought attention to groups and to a movement that is trying to feed on grievances and trying to recruit more people to their effort. And when you have somebody as prominent and powerful as the President, speaking about white supremacy, it is a recruitment tool. So you're going to end up with more people moving towards that ideology, and that ideology at its core, the deepest darkest roots, which Kathleen can speak much better to, but at its core, it is about violence. They want to overthrow the U.S. government and they look for opportunities to conduct acts of violence in order to accelerate and move into that hopeful day where they can overthrow the government and establish a white nation.

What he did is made things more dangerous for us, as Americans, so I understand he wants to win an election and there's a political fight here, but the point at which you start using your tools to actually bring more danger to our country, that's a dereliction of duty. You swore an oath to protect and defend us from all enemies foreign and domestic.

And so at that point for me, it's treasonous. You are putting your own politics and your political future over the lives of Americans.

[20:10:19]

COOPER: What's so stunning to me, I mean, Elizabeth, you said in those tweets that you tried to educate the President and his staff on this threat, but you were rebuffed. The fact that the Department of Homeland Security, at least in this draft report before the -- from political folks, you know, or according to the whistleblower, trying to weaken it, say that, you know, white supremacists extremists, are the biggest domestic threat in the United States this year.

The fact that if that is true, and that the President is not out there repeatedly talking about the dangers of actually doing stuff about it, and informing people about it, I mean, that's really stunning.

You know, I mean, it's, it's not even that he can't condemn it in the most perfunctory way, the fact that he is not championing that information and getting it out there. I mean, that's the number one job of a President to keep Americans safe.

NEUMANN: Absolutely, right, and every other example of an outside external threat, or internal threat, we've seen Presidents speak from the Oval Office in a very direct way to the American people and they describe the threat, and then they rally the American people around that threat and say, here's what we're going to do about it.

This President hasn't done that, he's done the opposite. He's ignored the threat. He's deflected and pointed to the left-wing violence, what he calls Antifa movement that is causing more challenges for law enforcement in the last few months. But honestly, I think, the only reason it has grown in the last few months is because he drew attention to it.

The real threat, which he was deflecting from is clearly from statistics and facts and every single expert that has testified on this, whether you're in the government or out, it is this right-wing extremist threat, and he is not willing to talk about it. COOPER: Yes, I mean, Kathleen, I know you say that whether or not President Trump ultimately disavows these groups, and again, when he does, it's in the most perfunctory way, so I'm not even sure it matters.

But you say that even if he did, it's too late, because he has already issued this call to arms. And he has already given them every clue and every dog whistle and, you know, full throated endorsement in so many different ways that the message has been received.

KATHLEEN BELEW, AUTHOR, "BRING THE WAR HOME": Exactly. And this is a problem that's much bigger than the Proud Boys, this is a movement of a whole bunch of like-minded activists, many of whom are even more violent and extremist than the Proud Boys as a group, and many of whom don't need this clear of a signal to prepare for war and stand by it to do violence.

This is a movement that has been interested in those goals for quite a long time, we're talking about something that is decades, if not generations old. It's been with us. It's been under the radar. But there's no reason to think that this movement will not take this as a sign and a signal and sort of carte blanche of the exact problem that Elizabeth points out, which is that there is not will at the upper levels of government to do the surveillance and prosecution needed to really bring this movement to a stop.

COOPER: And Elizabeth, the fact that the Department Homeland Security is unlikely to meet this deadline, do you think the report might be -- I mean, do you think the report is being held back for political purposes? I mean, if Ken Cuccinelli is saying, well, you know what, less on this whole white supremacy thing. Let's get more Antifa in there. It seems pretty obvious. I mean, that again, that's according the whistleblower.

NEUMANN: Yes, this report was supposed to be done in the spring. I understand a little bit of delay because of COVID. We had to make some adjustments to how the workforce was operating, and they needed access to classified information. So I think that it's reasonable that was delayed maybe until the summer.

It does not make any sense, why it is now October, and this was assigned back last September, we put out strategic threat assessments all the time. It should not take this long. So I'm kind of left with until they can provide some other rational justification, it looks inherently political. It looks like they're holding this because they don't want to get batted down like the President batted down Director Wray for talking about the truth about Russia and white supremacists.

COOPER: I mean, it's the same thing they've done with the C.D.C. and other groups. Kathleen, what do you make of the fact that the leader of the Proud Boys also heads up something called Latinos for Trump? What do you make of that link?

BELEW: This is such an interesting story. So it's actually about the first time that people of color have actually been involved in the white power movement way one way or another, or in militia groups and affiliated groups like Proud Boys.

But I gather that there's a little bit of a distinction between kind of the grassroots version of Latinos for Trump and the more aboveboard organized part of that movement. I think it's -- to me, the takeaway there is simply that there's just no credible way to believe that this administration is not fully aware of Proud Boys and who they are and the ways that they have directly contributed to Trump campaign events to unofficial security.

[20:15:17]

BELEW: I mean, if nothing else, you know, the last time that the President within the crosshairs of a major news story about not denouncing white supremacy was after the remarks that he gave about the clashes at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017. That event was partially populated by Proud Boys, some of whom went on to do violence and continue to be in the news.

So the idea that they don't know what it is, is simply just not credible.

COOPER: Yes. Elizabeth Neumann, I really appreciate it. Kathleen Belew, as well. Thank you for being back.

Coming up, next, more breaking news. Imagine what it would be like to have one ballot drop box for a county of nearly five million people. You might say though, that wouldn't make any sense. Well, it's actually happening in Texas, the latest on that.

And later Melania Trump, on tape, and the former best friend who made the recordings and wrote a book about it, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff joins us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: There's breaking news and on how hard some governors are making it to vote. Late today, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a proclamation limiting the number of mail-in ballot drop off locations to one per county. A single drop box for Dallas. One for Austin, one for Houston's Harris County, which at 1,700 square miles is larger than the State of Rhode Island. So it's 70 miles across at its widest point. They get one box for the entire county.

[20:20:12]

COOPER: The state's Democratic Party's Chair is labeling it a, quote, "blatant voter suppression tactic." Governor Abbott echoing the President's language painting this as a way of preventing what he calls, quote, "attempts at illegal voting," which again, doesn't happen. There is no widespread plot.

Here to talk about this and more is CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger and Carl Bernstein, investigative reporter, author, and CNN political analyst. Gloria, I mean, is this a defensible move from the Texas Governor? BORGER: Yes, if you want to get Donald Trump elected, sure. I mean, it's a blatantly political move. It's absurd on the face of it. You were talking about, for example, the size of Harris County and Houston. You were talking about Austin.

This affects Democratic voters. This affects minorities. You're talking about one drop off box for Harris County with 4.7 million residents. It used to have I think about a dozen drop off boxes.

If anything, you should be adding more drop off boxes, and if this is about election security, what is it about those boxes that is so insecure? The county clerk in Harris County said okay, we'll put security there at the drop of boxes if you want. But there's been no real response on that.

So the only reasoning is, Anderson, to make it harder for people to vote, who might vote for Joe Biden.

COOPER: Carl, I mean, have we seen like stuff like this before? I mean, obviously, we saw it in, you know, many parts of America during segregation and Jim Crow. Yes.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's exactly when we saw it. During Jim Crow America, and it since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, we have seen nothing, such as we're seeing from the systematic disenfranchisement of people who might be in the opposition to Donald Trump and to the Republican Party.

It is systematic. It's purposeful and it's overtly racist, led by a racist President of the United States.

And the really amazing thing is to watch the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, the party of the Emancipation Proclamation, go along with Trump's racist suppression of votes of black African-Americans. I mean, you've got to ask yourself at a point where are the 10 or 20, or 30 Republicans in the Senate and House who will condemn unequivocally the most despicable public utterances and embrace of evil ideology by a President in the experience of all living Americans, because that's what we've seen these last few days by the President in the debate, and now through this systematic exclusion of African-Americans from voting.

COOPER: You know, Gloria, if you're living in a huge county, and you don't have a car, you know, you go places and you go to work on the bus. What do you do?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's a good question. Because, you know, in the state of Texas, it's not easy to vote absentee, either, you know, you have to be over 65 or you have to prove that you're sick or you're disabled.

So, you know, that while other states are opening up the process for absentee ballots, particularly in a time of COVID, Texas is not a state that does that.

Look, this comes down to one thing. Texas has a two point state now, Texas, of all places, believe it or not, is a battleground in this election, and that would be incredibly embarrassing for Governor Abbott, who is close to Donald Trump, if the State of Texas were to somehow turn blue.

Now, I'm not going to predict that. But I am telling you that the fact that it is a battleground is already embarrassing for Abbott. So what does he have to do? He is protecting the status of the state as a red state, doing whatever he can for Donald Trump to make it hard for the voters you're talking about to vote.

COOPER: And, Carl, I mean, on the -- you know, the President continuing to refuse to -- it is not even to disavow white supremacists, just to speak like a normal human being, like speak like a leader about what the Department of Homeland Security in their draft report, at least before, you know, Ken Cuccinelli and others who are trying to, according to a whistleblower, manipulate it is the biggest domestic terror threat in the United States right now. Extremists, white supremacists, far right extremists -- the fact that he won't even, you know, warn people about it is stunning.

BERNSTEIN: It's stunning, but it's Donald Trump. We have to look at the lifelong history of Donald Trump as a racist. We have to go back to when he owned apartments in Baltimore and the Justice Department had to haul him in for refusal to rent to Republicans -- he is refusing to rent blacks.

COOPER: I get all of that, but what I don't get is Republicans or you know, just being outraged that he's not warning the American people about what the Department of Homeland Security says is the biggest threat domestically from a terror group?

BORGER: I know why he is doing it.

COOPER: Well, yes, because they support him.

[20:25:19]

BORGER: Because these things are going to vote for him.

COOPER: Of course.

BORGER: Right.

COOPER: Yes.

BORGER: Yes.

COOPER: But I mean, that's criminal. That's insane.

BERNSTEIN: Let's look at one other aspect of this, and Trump has made this very clear and I think Gloria knows this, too, from talking to people around the White House. He has said to people, making it clear, he is willing to blow up the basic American system of democracy so he can somehow hold on to power.

He is willing to undermine the very basis of democracy, which is free elections. We've never had a President do this before. This is fundamental. It's criminal.

COOPER: And you've got you know, Donnie Trump, Jr. in some hotel room looking glassy eyed, you know, talking into a Zoom, talking about the Trump army and join the Trump army. You know, as if he ever joined the military force.

BORGER: It's just remarkable that this is going on, and I think quite honestly, a lot of people don't actually believe what is occurring because it's not within our frame of reference here in America.

We go to vote. Voting is fine. We go in, we go out. We send in our ballots. We've never been afraid to go to the polls, unless you know, Jim Crow.

I think that now it may be sinking in that you have a current President of the United States who is actually inciting violence should he lose this election. I mean, that is stunning to all of us. And I think perhaps it is beginning to sink in.

But what you need to hear from these senators, these Republican senators who are trying to protect themselves because they're running for re-election is not that, oh, I will promise you a peaceful transfer of power. That is all they are saying.

What they need to do is say Donald Trump needs to stop talking about this, and that is what we are not hearing.

COOPER: I mean, promises from these people, it is like a promise from Lindsey Graham. I mean, what does that mean?

BORGER: Right. Exactly.

COOPER: Gloria Borger and Carl Bernstein, thanks very much.

We should note we invited Governor Abbott on the program tonight, but a spokesperson for his office said he was unavailable. There are a lot of remote studios in Texas he could have gone to unlike drop in places for mail-in ballots.

Up next, Melania Trump on tape in phone conversations with her former top adviser and former friend who joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:30:00]

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Tonight for the first time you'll hear First Lady Melania Trump as you probably have never heard of before, we've obtained phone recordings of the first lady from Stephanie Winston Wolkoff who was part of the Trump inner circle until she wasn't. She's a former close friend and advisor to the First Lady. In February 2018, her ties the east swing are terminated after an investigation revealed her firm was paid nearly $26 million to put together President Trump's 2017 inauguration. She said she was made a scapegoat for all the spending and that all but $1.6 million were actually went to subcontractors and vendors, the money didn't go to her. Wolkoff kept talking to Mrs. Trump and recording some of their phone calls using the quotes to write her new book Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady. Stephanie Winston Wolkoff joins me now.

Thanks so much for being with us.

STEPHANIE WINSTON WOLKOFF, AUTHOR: Thank you for having me. Anderson.

COOPER: I want to begin with the recording that you made in which you and Melania Trump are talking about her legacy. And it's really fascinating to hear her kind of just speak in this way. Let's listen.

WOLKOFF: Sure.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

WOLKOFF: That's fine. Who supports Melaia? You do have a legacy.

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF UNITED STATES: Yes, but the thing. While it doesn't come directly from -- yes, what I put on Twitter comes from -- it came from me, that's they know, about the children. And they talked about it. You know.

WOLKOFF: But I'm just saying you're, you know what I'm saying? You know what I'm saying that right? I mean, you do know what I'm saying? It's you shouldn't have people across the world. In New York, it was always Melania, Melania, Melania. Like, you know.

TRUMP: I don't give a (INAUDIBLE).

WOLKOFF: It's not about giving --

TRUMP: It's true. It's true. Honestly, it's like, because it's, you know, it's honestly, I'm doing the same stuff that I did before. They cannot stand him. They didn't know that I'm with him. They know that I'm --

WOLKOFF: They felt badly for you before. Now, they, you know, what you're saying?

TRUMP: Correct, correct.

WOLKOFF: Right.

TRUMP: OK. All that (INAUDIBLE) stuff. All that stuff came out. They feel bad for me, my polls went up, they said, oh my god, she feels so -- she's amazing. She's fantastic.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COOPER: What did you think when you heard that? And, I mean, it's so interesting, because there was this whole idea of sort of, oh, she's people feel bad for her that she's with this guy. And she sort of trapped in the situation. Is that -- that it doesn't seem like that's the reality at all? WOLKOFF: Well, Anderson, I just want to first start by saying that, you know, when I first started taping Melania, I had already left the White House and had already been accused of a criminal crime. And, I --

COOPER: I mean, they threw you under the bus, basically.

WOLKOFF: Very much so. The Trump administration as well as the presidential inauguration committee tandemly created a narrative that I wouldn't follow and I needed to be the scapegoat.

[20:34:59]

With that being said, I truly genuinely went into planning the inauguration with honor. It is the United States of America and helping the First Lady set up her East Wing office. Unfortunately, there were too many roadblocks in the way. So for Melania, to create a legacy was going to be challenging regardless, just because of the palace intrigue inside the White House between the East and West Wing between Ivanka, Melania. And, you know, she didn't have the support at first that she needed at all quite honestly.

COOPER: What -- does she have interest in the role of First Lady and the responsibility carries and what what is her -- what does she care about?

WOLKOFF: Well, at first Melania really did want to make a difference. She felt that if she had the right experts and the right team behind her, she'd be able to facilitate and create a platform that would help so many children with social emotional learning, unfortunately, when I had to go, and as she told me to White House legal counsel, explained to, she and Donald that due to a possible investigation with the pick, that my term there needed to be severed, then that was the quote from Stephanie Gresham.

But I do believe that, you know, she's complicit in everything that's going on. I mean, instead of falling out of line, she told the line. There are so many incredible things that the first lady has an honorary position could be doing, should be doing. And it's unfortunate that our country is so limited to such a basic level of, you know, I mean, it's great to see the warmth and the children's smiles, but there's so much more that should be happening.

COOPER: Her, you know, the she has this initiative be best, which I think you were involved with, and it's never important to combat cyber bullying. I know you sort of were concerned about the hypocrisy of that, given how much President Trump engages in that exact kind of behavior, which is she must be aware of that and just -- does she not see the strange hypocrisy of it?

WOLKOFF: You know what she did right away, Anderson, but she was committed to that. And she was open to discussing that in the set in the overarching belief that the initiative would almost be an umbrella to addictive behavior and that bullying social media, opioids were, you know, what would lead you not being able to express yourself not having the toolbox to know how to feel and to express your emotions, like our president. Would enable the next generation to actually live a much more respectful, empathetic kind life?

COOPER: What do you make of? I mean, is she -- the President, you're saying she is complicit? Is she a cheerleader for the President? Is she a supporter of the President? Does she like the President? Is she --

WOLKOFF: Yes, actually she does, very much so. I mean, Melania holds a role like no other person in the White House. I mean, anyone, she doesn't shake in her boots ever. And she tells Donald exactly how she feels. She is his biggest cheerleader. And she does believe that, if he's going to do it, he better do it right. And you better do it with brass knuckles, and he better do it now. And those are her words.

COOPER: We had reached out to the -- we reached out to the White House for response to all this and Stephanie Grisham, the Chief of Staff for the First Lady responded saying, secretly taping the First Lady and willfully breaking a nondisclosure agreement to publish a salacious book is a clear attempted relevance. The timing of this continues to be suspect, as does this never ending exercise and self pity and narcissism. I want you to be able to respond.

WOLKOFF: Well, I just think that she just lost the women's vote. I mean, I think that after watching the debate the other evening, and how disgraceful and how upsetting it was to see our leader act in such, I don't even have the words to express how blatantly rude it was to act that way, like to see Melania walk on stage, to smile at him and gesture at him and to be OK with that type of behavior.

I mean, the most important voice right now should be Melania's voice, she has no voice as his wife. I mean, the one woman that we need more than ever isn't coming to the plate because she has no ability to do so.

COOPER: So, the decision to start recording conversations with her you were already out of out of the White House and this investigation had sort of had begun, did you? What was the thinking on recording?

WOLKOFF: So here's the thing, that I think most people don't understand is that I had already hired my legal team while I was still inside the White House when I was asked to present a narrative to the press regarding the presidential inauguration committee financing, which I actually had no access or ability to sign off on. I was just the person who complained about it all the time.

So once I was handed 62 questions and some of them were regarding matters that are under investigation right now by the United States Attorney General for the District of Columbia that I am working with. I became extremely concerned, I expressed those concerns to Melania and Donald. But Melania actually was one person that I went to. And she and I talked about the need for a lawyer.

[20:40:22]

And so the next day I did, I went and hired a lawyer, and made sure that everything in my communication with the White House since January, was documented and I had resigned before I was even, as they would like to say, severed. So if -- none of it's true.

COOPER: Well, we got to take a quick break.

WOLKOFF: Sure.

COOPER: When we come back, there's when -- there's more recordings, but the first thing he said about her trip to the famous trip to the border, where the Trump administration was separating kids and their parents and detaining them, we'll have more on that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We're now with Stephanie Winston Wolkoff former friend and East Wing advisor First Lady Melania Trump. She's sharing phone conversations that she recorded in the First Lady and she quoted in her new book Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady.

So, Stephanie I want to play another conversation you had with the First Lady. This one is about her trip to the border when the Trump administration was separating kids from their parents and detaining them. Let's listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRUMP: All these kids that I met, they were -- they are here in the shelters because they were brought by it from through coyotes. The people who were trafficking. And that's why they put them in jail and the kids that they go in shelters and the way they take care of them. It's, you know, they even said the kids, they say, wow, I will have my own bed, I will sleep on the bed, I will have a cabinet for my clothes.

[20:45:23]

It's so sad to hear it, but they have it. They didn't have that in their own countries.

WOLKOFF: Right?

TRUMP: They sleep on the floor. They are, you know --

WOLKOFF: There's nothing.

TRUMP: -- they are taking care nicely there. But, you know, yes, they are not its parents, it's sad. But you when they come here alone, or with coyotes, or illegally, you know, you need to, you need to do something.

WOLKOFF: Right.

TRUMP: And a lot of, you know, a lot of like moms and kids, they are teaching how to do it, they go over and they say like, oh, we will be killed by a gang member, we will be the -- you know, we will be it's -- so dangerous. So they allow to stay here. Do you understand what I mean? WOLKOFF: I do. And they're the ones that are the bad ones.

TRUMP: Yes, and they are not, you know, it's not true, that they would, you know, what, I mean, some of them, they using that lines that, you know, they're not professional, but they are, they are teached by other people like to say, to come over and to, you know, to let them go to stay here. Because, you know, they could easily stay in Mexico, but they don't want to stay in Mexico because Mexico doesn't take care of them the same as America does.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COOPER: I mean, it's fast -- it's so fascinating to hear clearly, you know, people project things onto her about, well, if you went down the border, and she wore that shirt, and it was a mess -- wore that jacket, and it was a message. She would think that they were happy to be in U.S. custody, and that all the stories about gang violence, which is, you know, huge throughout Central America is just gaming the system.

WOLKOFF: Well, the, you know, the jacket was a means to an end. It was a publicity stunt. And it was to garner the attention of the press to make sure that everyone was aware that Melania was going to the border. And I think it meant a lot just like it means a lot to Donald, that, you know, he has something over Barack obama, Michelle Obama, Melania claim never went to the border either. So, you know, there's so many similarities here. And they do things not for the purpose, that, you know, good deeds are done for the intent of doing good deeds, not for the attention that you get from doing good deeds.

And unfortunately, this administration and the people around them, and this family are only doing things that benefit them instead of all of these children and people that are suffering. I mean, we have a huge humanitarian crisis on our hands. People are dying every day in the hundreds of thousands now, and to watch again, I'm sorry to go back to that debate. But it was horrifying and really, really embarrassing for our country.

COOPER: You also had a conversation, the First Lady about her role as First Lady and some of her duties including Christmas at the White House. I want to play that.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRUMP: They say I'm complicit, I'm the same like him, I support him. I don't say enough. I don't do enough.

WOLKOFF: No --

TRUMP: Where I am. I put -- I'm working like a ass -- my ass off at Christmas stuff that, you know, who gives a (INAUDIBLE) about Christmas stuff and decoration, but I need to do it right.

WOLKOFF: Yes, but 100% you had no choice.

TRUMP: And OK. And then I do it. And I said I'm working on Christmas planning for the Christmas. And they said, oh, what about the children? They were separated. Give me a break. Where they were saying anything when Obama did that.

WOLKOFF: I know.

TRUMP: I cannot go. I was trying to get the key reunited with the mom, I didn't have a chance, needs to go through the process and through the law.

WOLKOFF: But here's my thing, here what you just said, but instead of that, if -- you just -- you're messaging you were so loved. You were.

TRUMP: They will not do the story. We put it out there would not do the story --

WOLKOFF: Until --

TRUMP: You would not believe it. They would not do the story. Because they are not -- they would not do the story because they are against us because the liberal media. Yes, if I go to Fox, they will do the story, I don't want to go to Fox.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COOPER: It's so interesting. I mean, one there's to hearing her being hostile toward, you know, decorating the White House for Christmas. You know, I certainly doesn't jive with you know, the Fox whole idea, I mean from tug of war on Christmas. It's funny that she would be leading that that. But certainly it's one of those traditional roles and I don't know. It's fascinating her talk like that.

[20:50:03]

WOLKOFF: You know, I think Melania has an internal conflict and it's I -- you know, just back to the border for a moment.

COOPER: Yes.

WOLKOFF: I think that, you know, as a mother, those maternal instincts in her were set off, and she really did care. But there is no husband to go home to, the leader of the free world to discuss how she's feeling about that. So regardless of that, she steps in line. And she, you know, just decides that, what she's heard, and what she's been told is, what the rule of law is in our country. And that's why I think, you know, we are watching our democracy turned into a dictatorship at this point. And it's a brainwash type of cultish. You know, people keep using that word. So loosely, but, you know, that's what I think of.

And on the other -- on the flip side, you know, Melania, the traditions of First Lady and President have gone out the window with this couple. And I feel that if there were, I mean, there's so much that can be done. But again, no support, no understanding. And no --

COOPER: So, she can't go to the President and talk to him. At the end of the day, don't sit around and talk at the end of the day, or have dinner as a family and discuss things that are going on.

WOLKOFF: They do. But, you know, I think that the policy policies is going to rule out always and Donald is in charge of that. Melania again, as you know, the person with more emotion than Donald has to again, like I keep saying, it is about toeing the line.

COOPER: The -- that infamous jacket that she wore on her trip to the border. Which said, I really don't care, I think, I don't remember exactly. But you had a conversation with her about it. Let's play that.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRUMP: All the time that he's only one.

WOLKOFF: Right.

TRUMP: For everything.

WOLKOFF: So --

TRUMP: You understand?

WOLKOFF: I do. So what prompted you to want to buy that jacket.

TRUMP: I'm driving liberals crazy, that's for sure. And that's, you know, that's what -- and they deserve it. You understand.

WOLKOFF: I know.

TRUMP: And that everybody's like, oh, my god, this is the worst, this is the worst after. I mean, come on. They are crazy. OK.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COOPER: Because at the time, First Lady, the -- you know, Stephanie Grisham said, quote is a jacket, there was no hidden message. So what was the message?

WOLKOFF: Well, as I just I do discuss in the book, and I think it's really important. The messaging in her office in the East Wing and the West Wing, there is no synergy. When I'd spoken to Melania about it, I said to her didn't you really maybe mean that you weren't? You know, I don't care, do you? The message should have been I don't care what anyone thinks, conservative, liberal, I don't care who you are. I'm doing the right thing as a mother and as the first thing the United States of America and going to the border and visiting the children, whether it's covered or not.

So, she is in a position where she doesn't have the support either within the Office to even have the proper messaging for her.

COOPER: So that's really interesting. She thought that was the message like, she's going to the borders. She cares about it. You know, no other first lady has done this. I mean, it's totally not what the shirt and the jacket actually said. I mean, made it sound like she doesn't care and do you? I mean, the whole thing --

WOLKOFF: No, that was my take on the jacket.

COOPER: I said it, OK. OK.

WOLKOFF: I'm sorry. So, but I did, but again, importantly, you know, Melania should have come out immediately after that and made a statement to the press that her office had misspoke and that Stephanie Grisham as a spokesperson should protect the First Lady and try and understand what does she mean? Again, Melania is going to do a Melania wants to do she does not care what anyone tells her. And she's very, very honest about that.

COOPER: It's fascinating. The book is Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady. Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

WOLKOFF: Thank you for having me, Anderson.

COOPER: There is more breaking news tonight. CNN has learned that White House Senior Advisor Hope Hicks, has tested positive for the coronavirus. We're going to right to CNN's Kaitlan Collins who has the details.

So, when was this discovered Kaitlan? When was Hope Hicks last near the President or the Vice President?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So we haven't confirmed exactly when she tested positive Anderson, but what we know about how they do things here at the White House. It must have been today, because yesterday we did see Hope Hicks getting a Marine One flying with the president to Joint Base Andrews and then of course flying with him to that rally in Minnesota last night. And now we've learned that she has tested positive for coronavirus.

So we still have to figure out when exactly that test was administered. But typically they're done in the mornings when the senior staff who actually meets with the President gets into the West Wing comes to meet with the President. It's something they do basically as they walk in the door, drop off their phones. They also get tested for coronavirus.

[20:55:00]

And this is incredibly significant, because we've reported about cases of coronavirus in the West Wing over the last several months since this pandemic started with the President's personal valet, his national security adviser, a top aide to the Vice President. But it has not been closer to the President than it is right now with Hope Hicks, because there are a few people who work closer with the President than she does. And she has been traveling with the President, not just last night, but also for the debate in Cleveland on Tuesday. Every other rally he's gone to this week, she was part of his debate prep, where we were told they were not wearing masks as they were doing debate prep ahead of that meeting in Cleveland on Tuesday. So she is someone who has been around the President a lot in recent days. And of course, we've reported that people in the West Wing do not wear masks, they do not social distance. It's just been a protocol that they followed. And time and time again, Anderson, you've seen them rely on the fact that they get tested every single day, but with Hope Hicks. She's living proof that just because you get tested every day doesn't make you immune from coronavirus. And now someone incredibly close to the President has gotten it.

And so, we asked the White House about this. They did not confirm the story. But we do have several sources who have confirmed that she tested positive after Bloomberg News first reported it and they just said that they do work with the physician's office to make sure if the President comes in contact with someone that they can find out what they need to know about doing that kind of contact tracing, but I mean, we can do the contact tracing ourselves, Anderson. She's been around the president a lot. And now today she has tested positive for coronavirus.

COOPER: So if it was in fact, today, it would have been 24 -- it basically would have been a problem. I mean, if the kept a normal schedule, it would be a 20 -- every 24 hours she would have been tested if it was day after day issues with the President, right?

COLLINS: That's typically how it's been done in the mornings is when they get tested. And then once they're cleared, they go on about their day, and they don't normally get tested again. And so, remember the President was in Minnesota last night, it was a pretty late night he got back to the White House really late. But you got to think of not just being at the rally, they're writing on Air Force One together where often staff sits in a conference room on Air Force One you can see them when you're on the plane in the back where the press sets. But the President has his own office aides are often in there conferring with him going over the schedule for the next day, watching Fox News with him, helping him with his tweets if he wants to fire back at something.

So, there's a lot of interaction face to face on something called an enclosed space like Air Force One, where there certainly is a lot of contact for the President to be talking to someone who now has tested positive for COVID-19.

COOPER: Kaitlan Collins, appreciate it. Standby.

I want to bring in CNN's medical analyst, infectious disease specialist, Dr. Celine Gounder. Dr. Gounder, what do you make of this?

CELINE GOUNDER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, Anderson, we know that if somebody is in close proximity with another person for what we would consider to be close proximity, you know, within a couple feet, and for 15 minutes or longer, that that constitutes a very real risk. Now, because they're testing everybody at the White House every day, every 24 hours or so, that would indicate that the real window of risk for the President, would it be the last 24 hours prior to Hope Hicks being diagnosed with this. But he is somebody who likely has a lot of pre- existing conditions, he's obese, may have high blood pressure, other cardiovascular types of conditions, which if he were to be infected, would put him at very high risk for severe disease. And so, I certainly hope he has not been infected with this.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, anybody who has a weight issue as he does, I mean, that is a concern. Obesity is a preexisting condition for this. I mean, if Hope Hicks was wearing a mask at all times around the President, you know, in those 24 hours, that would obviously mitigate the risk. If she wasn't, the risk would be higher, I assume. Even if somebody has just then, I mean, if she gets tested, you know, one morning and then the next morning, is positive test positive. And she contracted it then somewhere in between, is she able to spread the virus immediately?

GOUNDER: Well, if she was tested negative the day before, it was highly unlikely that the day before she would have been very infectious. So, it's really in the in the time leading up to this positive test that we worry. In general, people can take up to 14 days to develop symptoms. But she was not -- she's not somebody who's a symptomatic cases is really being picked up early on the basis of a test. And we have yet to see if she developed symptoms.

COOPER: And the fact that they -- so Kaitlan, what happens now I mean, I guess everybody who is with her will be tested again.

COLLINS: Well, that's several officials who were on that trip with her were told today that she had tested positive because of course they've got to be informed that someone they were interacting with without mask and without social distancing tested positive. And then does make you question because we have been told that the President was actually pretty paranoid about getting coronavirus. You've heard him defend his rallies was saying well, I stand back from everyone else. I'm not that close. But remember, he's got rallies coming up this weekend so you've got to wonder if it changes that travel schedule.

[21:00:03]

COOPER: Yes, Kaitlan Collins appreciated. Dr. Celine Gounder as well.

The news continues, want to hand over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIMETIME," Chris?